TV

What It Was Like To Have A Front Row Center Seat For Jon Stewart’s Final ‘Daily Show’ Taping

(ED. NOTE: On Thursday we noticed friend-of-Uproxx Peter W. Knox tweeting and Instagramming about being in line to attend the final taping of Jon Stewart’s Daily Show hosting run. So we reached out to Peter and asked him to share his story with us and, simultaneously, with you, our readers. He happily obliged us. This is his story.) 

Like many of you, I grew up watching The Daily Show. Once I got to college and had my own dorm room equipped with cable, sitting down (pre-DVR/streaming) at 11pm with Jon Stewart became a ritual for me and my friends; our favorite form of procrastinating from doing the studying we’d get around to afterwards, and really our only connection to national and political news.

Stewart made politics accessible, understandable, sane, and funny. The show politicized me in a way that any poli-sci course never came close to doing. All of a sudden I was engaging in politics, voting in elections, and caring about the news simply because Stewart packaged and presented that information in such a compelling way.

After college, I moved to New York City and made it a personal goal to see the show live. I’ve gone to two Daily Show tapings in the years since, and kept up with the ritual of watching the show most nights thanks in large part to now living firmly in the DVR era. Jon Stewart still helped me make sense of the news and he was the only TV host I felt strongly about following on a regular basis.

So when Stewart announced he was leaving the Daily Show and that his final episode would be on August 6th, I marked it down in my calendar so I could make sure I was in front of the TV to see it air live and then talk about it on the internet like the rest of the world. That was still my plan as of midday on Wednesday. Then, out of nowhere, I received this Gchat message from a friend…

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My friend’s coworkers had been obsessively refreshing the show’s tickets page, hearing that tickets for the final taping were being released that day. Eventually, they hit the jackpot and snagged a few spots, including one for my friend. But he’d already booked a flight that would put him out of town on the day of the taping, an unfortunate missed opportunity for him. However, his loss became my unbelievable gain when I found myself in posessions of a ticket.

That said, having attended Daily Show tapings before, I knew that they typically give out more tickets than they have seats for — something they do to make sure to have a full house each time — so your place in the line is what ultimately determines if you get in or not. There are about 150-200 seats in the studio, give or take however many seats are reserved for VIPs, so I knew I needed to be there early to reduce any chance of missing the show. I also knew that news leaking about Bruce Springsteen being the musical guest for the final show would only make things more difficult, as the fanbases for Stewart and Springsteen in the New York/New Jersey area are considerable and passionate. Any Stewart/Springsteen crossover fans who snagged tickets were going to be there early.

If there’s one thing that New Yorkers are willing to commit to, it’s a line for an event. There are many quality, free happenings all over town that you pay for with your time and comfort to stand in line — or “on line” as locals often say. I’ve shown up to Central Park at 6am to wait a few hours only to be denied Shakespeare in the Park tickets because people started arriving there at 2am. I once got in an SNL line at 5am only to be the first person cut off at the theater — the person in front of me got the last seat. So you have to want it and want it badly.

When I arrived at 52nd and 11th on Thursday morning, I estimated that there were around 60 people already there in front of me. The eager ones had gotten there around 2am and were still sleeping on chairs, blankets, cardboard boxes (really committing). A professional line-sitting couple were sleeping on an air mattress. I was next to them, but on the outside line because it wrapped around, and feeling confident about my chances. So I settled in to wait, wearing a vintage Stewart/Colbert t-shirt I bought back prior to the 2008 election, the same one I wore to their 2011 rally in DC.

Those of us in line traded stories about how we got our tickets, varying from constant site refreshing starting 3 weeks out, to spending 3 hours refreshing, to getting lucky with a ping from an app called Push Bullet (which I obviously need to look into). We also discussed when we got in line (2am, 2:30am, 5am, 6am) and where we all traveled from. Some drove up from places like Alabama, Virginia, and Maryland. Many came in from New Jersey and there were a few New Yorkers, of course. Snacks were passed around — bags of Twizzlers and pistachios were popular — and the experience felt collective and civilized.

The media were also out there early. There were news trucks up and down the street, each with cameras and roving reporters. Perhaps blissfully oblivious to the fact that Jon Stewart would normally poke fun at news outlets for covering a non-event such as a TV show taping line instead of more important matters, these reporters had 150 or so fans with nowhere to escape at their disposal. Everyone was there: CNN, CBS, Fox, AP, NYT, WSJ, Mashable, WNYC, Reuters, NY1, Complex Mag, and countless others. The couple sleeping on the air mattress behind me captured a fair amount of attention, as did the first people in line, but a lot of people in line refused to speak on camera. I, however, had no such hangups, so I spoke to a few of them.

First was CNN

Then NY1 sought to piggyback on my rising stardom…

Finally, I talked to WNYC, completing my media tour. But I also made it into Friday’s edition of the Wall Street Journal

And that’s me on the right playing on my phone in this pic on Mashable

I sat down as the sun started to intensify, not yet overhead enough for the Daily Show awning to protect me. The bag I’d brought along contained snacks, a water bottle — one that I avoided as much as possible so as not to have to leave the line to go to the bathroom — and a book/Kindle/iPad mini, but no sunscreen. (At least it wasn’t 90+ degrees.) I tried reading and listening to podcasts to pass the time, but kept coming back to email and social on my phone. People were running out of things to discuss in line, the reporters had already picked over all the willing sources, and boredom was beginning to set in, as it typically does halfway through a line-waiting marathon.

Eventually though we reached the final stretch and someone in a position of authority came by to say they’d soon hand out numbered tickets to those of us in line. That bit of hope was our light at the end of the tunnel, and people started putting their chairs away (or deflating their mattresses) and stood up to be received. Some thoughtful fan passed around a card for Jon that all of us in line signed.

The staff processed us pretty efficiently and I was assigned ticket #54. I celebrated by running to a nearby bar to use the bathroom, drink some water, eat a late lunch, and participate in IPA Day (a Gun Hill IPA draft, actually). A friend joined me and shared in my excitement – now that I had my numbered ticket all I had to do was not die so that I could show back up at the studio at 4:30 when they’d let us in.

I returned to join the others with tickets for our final stand outside. We were nervous, eager to be ushered into the building at any moment, and short on patience for reporters still circling around trying to get a last minute quote. I noticed several of the people who had been in line had somehow managed to use the 2-hour break to shower and change into nice clothes – a suit or a dress – making me feel underdressed all of a sudden.

Daily Show staffers came around with a few last minute announcements, the main one being that once we entered the studio we would not be allowed to leave for any reason – bathroom breaks included – and thus we should use the bathrooms now. Almost everyone did, myself included, as I added pee-anxiety to my mix of emotions due to the fact that a coworker had told me a story about her friend once peeing herself in her seat because she couldn’t leave. After going to the bathroom, we were ushered through a metal detector when our number was called.

As is the case with most large production operations, there was a lot of hurry up to wait. Eventually we were led into the studio, where I learned that my #54 seat selection meant that I would be seated on the first row, front and center.

Feel free to hate me now. Some of my friends and family, especially the Bruce diehards among them, certainly did…

Once everyone was seated we all did our best to to take it all in, turning off our phones when they got very serious about us doing so. The same warm up comedian that I saw do the show years ago came out and did some crowd work. Finally, the man of the hour came out and greeted the crowd for his last ever pre-show Q&A. It was a moment like this that we were all there for – we wanted to hear from Stewart himself and there was a sense of pressure to deliver good questions to send him off on a high note into the final show. (And yes, Jon Stewart is as short as he jokes about – but his charisma is huge. If he wasn’t already the center of attention, he would be soon enough in any room.)

A 24 year-old man in a bowtie, who had driven up from Alabama, asked Jon if his Springsteen fandom ever led him to do anything crazy. Stewart confessed to hitchhiking up and down Interstate 95 to see Springsteen shows way back when hitchhiking was fashionable, saying he rode with “a lot of vets and truck drivers.” Another audience member invited him to perform some time at UCB. Stewart declined the offer but mentioned that he owes a debt of gratitude to UCB and Second City and similar improv theaters as they’ve been consistently quality places for developing the talent he’s hired for the show over the years. An Alabama man (another one…should’ve carpooled with bow-tie!) who asked Jon to name his favorite New York pizza joints was told “anywhere but Sbarro’s.” Stewart also added, “John’s Pizza on Bleecker for the full pie and up the street at Joe’s on Carmine for just a slice,” recommendations I back 100%.

Finally, Jon was asked, “What do you want us to take away from the Daily Show?” His response: “DVR space.” After a few more questions, he stepped back behind the desk to start his final show.

The last episode, as I’m sure you’ve seen by now, was perfect and genuine and authentic. I was focused on trying to remember the things that weren’t captured by the cameras, like Stewart’s family filing in just before taping began and standing over to the side behind the monitors; his wife and two children visibly proud.

There were no retakes – everything went off without a hitch, unfolding on camera with each current and past correspondent making their appearance to raucous applause. We, the crowd, would rise to our feet and have to be motioned to sit back down time and time again as each generation of correspondents had their moment with Jon. The energy was celebratory, like the most fun retirement party in history, hugs exchanged like candy on Halloween. The crew were hugging each other. The producers were hugging each other between cuts. And everyone was hugging a constantly smiling Jon. We went nuts for John Oliver when his joke about commercials went off. Stephen Colbert spoke for all of us when he went off script and gave Stewart his heartfelt thanks.

The video of the tracking shot through the office was amazing, but more amazing was watching Stewart watch it with pride. I’ll forever remember him sitting on the desk being mobbed by all of the guests, like the star quarterback being lifted up after throwing a game-winning touchdown. There were whoops and cheers when it looked as if an awkward-hatchet was buried by a cathartic, off-camera hug between Stewart and Wyatt Cenac on the stage. When Stewart talked to the camera and to all of us with his brief monologue on bullshit detecting, we felt the importance of the Daily Show manifesto being passed along to us, a life philosophy useful in any adult’s life tool belt. May we all call bullshit when we see it and/or smell it.

And then it was over. Stewart returned to reassure the audience that the set was being moved to accommodate the musical performance we all knew was still coming. Eventually he made an introduction (his last) to Bruce and I felt the power of the E Street Band in full effect, playing to a small room as if they were playing for a packed stadium – hitting every note to perfection. Bruce looked in as good of shape as any man his age could possibly be and played like a professional. It was the first time I’d seen him perform and I kept pinching myself in between clapping. Jon stood off to the side watching, obviously full of emotion.

Having Jon and the assembled cast crash the dance floor was the true release of the room. Jon, leading his children out into the middle of the set, was particularly beautiful. Stars — they’re just like us — had their cameras out and were capturing the moment as Bruce and the band brought the studio down playing “Born to Run.”

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Just some good old friends.

A post shared by John Hodgman (@johnhodgman) on

The music ended, security ushered out the cast and crew unwilling to let it go so suddenly, and we the audience were left wondering if it had all really happened. Sort of shell-shocked, we slowly filed out of the room, collected our bags, and walked out into the New York night. Members of the media were there capturing reactions, getting their scoops, and a growing crowd waited by the loading dock to sneak a peek at the exiting talent.

I had had enough, maybe too much, and walked off alone processing the overwhelming event. It was epic and awesome and everything I could’ve hoped for when I arrived 12 hours earlier.

I still haven’t watched the final episode yet. Give me time and then maybe I’ll eventually clear that DVR space, just like Jon would want.

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